Blocking German Reparations


BERLIN/WARSAW (Own report) - Polish government politicians' demands for comprehensive reparations for the devastation caused by the German occupation during World War II, have been unanimously turned down in Berlin. A German government spokesperson explained that Poland has long since renounced reparations; German media point to payments Germany - under massive international pressure - was unable to avoid in the 1990s. Warsaw, on the other hand, has reiterated that payments, they have received so far are in no relation to the immense damage the German Reich had inflicted on Poland since September 1, 1939. During World War II, six million Poles were killed, and material damage was estimated a few years ago in the mid-range triple-digit billions. The most recent reparations dispute between Berlin and Warsaw is occurring at a time, when geostrategic tensions between the two countries are intensifying.

Germany's Debts

At the beginning of August, members of the right-wing Polish government announced an initiative to have Germany pay comprehensive reparations for the destruction and losses Poland suffered during World War II. August 2, Arkadkusz Mularczyk, parliamentarian of the governing Right and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), announced he was commissioning the Reference and Research Service of the Polish parliament (the Sejm) to prepare a relevant assessment.[1] The Germans must be presented with "a bill" for World War II, the politician of the PiS explained to Poland's public service radio, Polskie Radio.[2] This is no isolated initiative of this PiS parliamentarian. August 6, the daily, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported that the head of the PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who is pulling the strings of the Polish right-wing government, had incited Mularczyk's initiative.[3] Poland's Minister of Defense, Antoni Macierewicz also confirmed the demand for reparations in an interview with "TVP-Info" television. He said it "is not true that Poland had renounced on reparations," on the contrary, they are still owed this country, explained Macierewicz. "Without any question, the Germans owe war reparations to the Poles."[4]

"Conclusively Settled"

In his remarks, Macierewicz made reference to the usual line of argument encountered in Berlin on the subject of Polish reparations claims. This time as well, the deputy spokesperson for the government, Ulrike Demmer immediately asserted that Germany is committed to its historical responsibility - politically, morally and financially - however, Poland had renounced reparation payments back in 1953. The country had sought, at the time, "to make an added contribution to the solution of the German question in the spirit of democracy and peace," quotes Demmer from a declaration that Warsaw had made to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on August 24, 1953, therefore, according to the government's spokesperson, the question of reparations is conclusively settled.[5]

"Paid Up"

German media have thoroughly exposed Germany's other standpoints in reference to Warsaw's recent reparations demands. They explain that the Allies had already stipulated in the Potsdam Agreements (August 2, 1945) that Poland's reparations demands would be fulfilled from the Soviet reparations allotment. In the beginning, the GDR had paid reparations to Poland. Alongside Warsaw's renunciation of reparations in the above-mentioned August 1953 declaration, the daily, "Die Welt" also published the German-Polish Good Neighbor Relations Treaty (1991), wherein both sides reached an understanding on "a settlement of pending reparations issues." This was carried out within the framework of the Foundation for "Polish-German Reconciliation," accommodated with 500 million DM, as well as with other payments of 2 billion DM to Polish forced laborers.[6]

Unprecedented Damage

On the other hand, the Polish side argues that the People's Republic of Poland had not been a sovereign country but a satellite of the Soviet Union, which had been pressured in 1953 by Moscow to withdraw its reparations demands.[7] Furthermore, the addressee of Poland's 1953 renunciation - which was made public the day following the renunciation by the Soviet Union - was solely the GDR and not the unified Germany. Above all, however, the German payments, so far, are in no relation to the damage and the losses Germany had inflicted on Poland during World War II. For the destruction of Warsaw and the repression of the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 alone, they owe around US $45.3 billion, the sum former mayor of Warsaw Lech Kaczyński had had calculated in 2004.[8] It is estimated that damages incurred by Poland during WWII total $640 billion in 2004 exchange values, according to media in the USA.[9] Between Germany's September 1, 1939 aggression and the Red Army's liberation of the country, in 1944-45, Poland lost around 6 million of its pre-war population of 35 million - primarily to the terror of Germany's war and occupation.

"Start an Avalanche"

The last time reparations demands became a German-Polish issue was in 2004, when revanchist German organizations made demands to Poland for compensation. A "Prussian Claims Inc." associated with the German "expellee associations" had filed suit before the European Human Rights Court against the Republic of Poland. This was supposed to apply pressure on Warsaw to pay indemnities to German citizens, who, toward the end of World War II, had been dispossessed in what is today Poland and resettled outside of that country.[10] With their demands, the Germans have "started an avalanche", warned the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Władysław Bartoszewski, already at the time.[11] In fact, in a defensive maneuver, in a resolution, the Sejm called on Poland's social democratic government at the time to put the question of reparations on the political agenda. However, the government refused, prioritizing favorable relations with Europe's hegemon over demands for historical justice.[12]

"Do Not Complicate Matters"

Only in 2006, after the PiS was able to form its first coalition government, did the Prime Minister at the time Jaroslaw Kaczyński again raise the question of reparations. He called on Chancellor Angela Merkel - under the impression of the demands previously made by the "Prussian Claims Inc" - to reach a bilateral agreement, that would make it impossible, in the future, for German citizens to seek compensations for dispossession of their property, which - legitimized by the Potsdam Agreements - were carried out during the resettlement process at the end of World War II. In exchange for such an agreement, Kaczynski said he would block Polish counter-efforts to seek reparations from the Germans for damage done during World War II. Merkel, though, declined to take up the offer, saying that such a treaty would only further complicate matters, as Der Spiegel formulated in October 2006.[13]

Geostrategic Priorities

The current disputes between Berlin and Warsaw over the question of reparations are only one aspect of the rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries. In reaction to Berlin's growing domination over the EU, Warsaw is making great efforts to establish a geostrategic alliance with the USA that foresees Central Eastern Europe - the region between the Baltic and Black Seas - as an independent power factor. This would drive a wedge between Berlin and Moscow, the creation of which is also fully in Washington's interests. Warsaw's geostrategic confrontation course in relationship to Germany makes the resumption of reparations demands possible; something Berlin would never allow a subordinate ally. This proceeds hand in hand with an authoritarian transformation of the Polish state, which for reasons of domestic policy, also strengthens the right-wing government's energetic posturing toward Germany.

[1] Polnische Regierungspolitiker fordern von Deutschland Reparationen. 02.08.2017.
[2] Arkadiusz Mularczyk: trzeba wystawić Niemcom rachunek za II wojnę światową. 13.08.2017.
[3] Ireneusz Sudak: Arkadiusz Mularczyk: Reparacje od Niemiec to pomysł Jarosława Kaczyńskiego. 06.08.2017.
[4] Polen prüft Reparationsforderungen an Deutschland. 03.08.2017.
[5] Polen prüft Reparationsforderungen an Deutschland. 02.08.2017.
[6] Sven Felix Kellerhoff: Warum Deutschland Polen keine Reparationen schuldet. 03.08.2017.
[7] Szymon Gebert: Macierewicz: "Niemcy są bezdyskusyjnie winne Polsce reparacje". A Włosi i Węgrzy? Byli sojusznikami Hitlera. 04.08.2017.
[8] Po co Kaczyński idzie na Berlin? 04.08.2017.
[9] Karen Gilchrist: Why Poland is demanding World War II reparations from Germany. 03.08.2017.
[10] See "Geklautes Land" and "Eigentümer an Grund und Boden".
[11] Von Bolzen, Bakirdögen: "Die Deutschen haben eine Lawine losgetreten". 15.10.2004.
[12] Deutschland sagt nein. 13.09.2004.
[13] Kaczynski Demands World War II Reparations Deal. 30.10.2006.